About this time last week came the first reports that Harper – after ramming the extension of the mission through Parliament – had ordered the first Canadian airstrikes within Syria against the Islamic State. To Harper’s great pride, Canadian troops are now fully pledged in the war against terror.

At the same time as Canadian missiles were raining down in Syria, violating every international convention possible and imaginable, students at UQAM were met with the brutal force of SPVM’s riot police squads, who besieged and dispersed the students that had assembled there, violating the “sanctity” of academic space and the cherished democratic right of assembly and of strike.

While Harper is fighting a war against terror in the Middle East, it seems that the federal and provincial governments in Canada are fighting a war on democracy.

And the latest manifestation of this broader “war on democracy” has been the brutal repression with which the student strike of 2015 has been met, in addition to the “delegitimization” campaign student associations have been facing. The arguments in this realm have been quite creative. First of all, we have had a strain of arguments saying that students shouldn’t have the “right” to strike. Then there is the argument that students aren’t striking, that its merely a boycott and to call it anything else is false. Finally there’s the last strain of arguments saying that the strikes/strike mandates aren’t democratic because the proceedings of the general assemblies aren’t democratic, that there’s intimidation, there’s no secret ballots thus the student unions mandates are void.

Regardless of how many times all of these arguments have been proven wrong; regardless of the fact that non-remunerated student work lays at the foundation for many of the advances in research in many areas of study; regardless of the fact that students are workers and produce value; regardless of the fact that student strikes – not boycotts but strikes – have been at the backbone of some of the most important political mobilization in history; regardless of the fact that student assemblies have more legitimacy than, let’s say, the government of Quebec that is imposing austerity; and regardless of the fact that the percentage of students who voted to strike is significantly higher than the percentage of eligible voters who voted for Harper’s Conservatives or Couilard’s Liberals; the mainstream media onslaught continues: student democracy isn’t valid!


Others have argued that the student movement is just an offshoot of ISIS and Boko Haram – no kidding, there’s actually a page created by UQAM’s anti-strike students to denounce the terrorism of the so-called Boko UQAM. It’s imaginative to say the least – their logic is: students are terrorists and must be dealt with as such.  They are called terrorists because they dare say that academia must escape the clutches of profit and of limitless speculations, and that education isn’t for profit. Through the lens of this demagogic discourse, the crimes committed against innocent civilians in Syria and the crimes of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and throughout that broader region have an equal footing with the “crimes” of students that are fighting to make sure that public services continue to be accessible to all, that equality of opportunity is preserved, and what was created through public wealth continues to profit the public, and not the private sector or a clique of individuals.

Once the mainstream media draws the correlation between the “war on terror” and the striking students, it isn’t surprising to see the same government which has declared unilaterally a “war on terror,” crush student democracy, painted as a foyer of terrorism.

Today, a war against student democracy and dissidence, which is the essence of democracy, is taking form. Long gone are the days when this government adored the shrine of freedom of expression and of #jesuischarlie. This is the struggle of students today, never mind the headlines which say “They’re just a bunch of spoiled brats that bite the hand that feeds them.” The student associations form the vanguard of the struggle to uphold democracy.

Student associations have taken on the heavy task of ensuring that democracy and the fundamental democratic right of dissidence, of disagreement and pressure tactics (in this case strikes), safeguards of democracy, are upheld.

Where neo-liberal “no alternativism” prevails, strikes and especially student strikes with their weekly GAs and spontaneous direct democracy constitute the proper counterbalance. That counterbalance is the antithesis of the PLQ agenda, which creates a state apparatus that “legalizes” and promotes inequality, precarization of the workforce, and the parcelization of society while ”liberating” the free circulation of capital of all constraints, the destruction of the limits to its accumulation, and the dismantling and privatization of sectors outside of its reach in this case education.

The reason why students have been equated with terrorists is not because of the bloodthirsty radical ideals their espouse. The reason students have been equated with Boko Haram and ISIS isn’t because of their Islamic principals. Rather it’s because of the very sensible idea of direct participatory democracy; because of the idea that legitimacy becoming more than a vote every 4 years terrorizes the class that will benefit the most from austerity. Through this struggle, students are not only combating austerity; they’re reviving and redefining democracy, and that scares the political clique shitless!

La lutte continue!

On Sunday, January 18, around 300 people gathered in Place Émilie-Gamelin, in remembrance of the thousands of people murdered by Boko Haram, a militant insurgent group active in Nigeria. Active since 2002, the group has killed nearly 10,000 people in 2014, and has caused nearly 1,5 million people to escape from their homes.

Boko Haram came under the scrutiny of Western media back in April 2014, when they kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls in Chibok. The group threatened to sell the schoolgirls into slavery, and based on survivor accounts did horrible things to them. The twitter hashtag #BringOurGirlsBackHome trended very highly at the time – even First Lady Michelle Obama posed with a piece of paper with the words written on it.

Most recently, however, Boko Haram killed 2000 people, in the same week as the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The international response to Boko Haram has been widely criticized, however, as mainstream media focused more on the deaths of 12 European people. In contrast to Charlie Hebdo, Boko Haram’s acts receive less widespread coverage, even in Nigeria, where the group is active. Some argue that mainstream media has ignored Boko Haram, simply because it is actually very difficult to go into Nigeria, and try and cover the news. After all, Boko Haram is known to target journalists.

Nevertheless, the point remains that one of the greatest massacres in human history (according to Amnesty International) is receiving less attention than it should. It then remains to vigils and demonstrations like this one to bring about that attention, and raise global awareness.

Boko Haram Victims Rally MontrBoko Haram Victims Rally Montr

Click on the photo above to open the gallery. All photography by Gerry Lauzon.

Discussions of news through social media often consider it a threat toward traditional media in informing, mobilizing, and empowering the public. While this medium may grant more accessibility, it also comes with its own set of drawbacks and as such, social media movements -such as the recent #BringBackOurGirls campaign- often have mixed effects.



On April 14th, over 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from a school in the Northern town of Chibok, Nigeria by the insurgent group Boko Haram. 53 of the kidnapped girls managed to escape but 276 remain in captivity a month later.

On May 12th, Boko Haram released a video of the remaining girls, stating that they would be released in exchange for the Nigerian government’s release of Boko Haram prisoners.

These kidnappings are only the most recent strategy used by Boko Haram who claims that it will not stop until it overthrows the current government.

The insurgent group’s political objective is to remove all forms of Western influence in Nigeria -including Western attire, elections and secularism- and replacing it with a form of Islamic governance that is based on traditional systems and Sharia law.

The group has previously used violent means in attempts to achieve these objectives. It has claimed responsibility for attacks on Nigerian journalists and media organizations, government employees, farmers, schools, military barracks and international organizations.

More than a month later, over 260 schoolgirls still remain in custody of Boko Haram.  These kidnappings are only the most recent strategy used by the insurgent group, which had previously launched attacks on Nigerian journalists and media organizations, government employees, farmers, military barracks, international organizations and even schools.

Indeed, the scale of these kidnappings sets it apart from previous attacks and shows the continuing ability of Boko Haram to operate even in light of the region being under emergency law.

Social media: Western uptake


Despite the scale of the Chibok kidnappings, international media did not immediately pick up the story.  Protests in response to the Nigerian government’s initially false statements on the girls’ and the advent of the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls belatedly catapulted the issue onto the front pages of international newspapers and newsfeeds.

Thanks to the traces left by online content this can be well documented: The Chibok kidnappings took place April 14th, #BringBackOurGirls was first created April 23rd, and in-depth coverage by the Western media began in late April and early May.  Political and social figures have also participated in the campaign and have thus increased its visibility.

First Lady Michelle Obama posted a picture of herself with the hashtag on Instagram and broke convention to deliver the weekly Presidential address alone, stating “In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes, their dreams – and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”

Activist Malala Yousafzai also tweeted her support and penned an article titled “Save my Nigerian Sisters,” connecting the Chibok kidnappings to the global problem of difficulties faced by women in pursuing education.

The high degree of coverage of the kidnappings has also spurred political action by the international community. China, Britian, France, Israel and the US have offered their own specialized investigative teams to aid the Nigerian government in locating the girls.

The United States in particular, is reported to have also shared intelligence with the Nigerian government, and has deployed manned surveillance missions in attempts to locate the girls.

ann coulter bring back our countryIn this, the positives of the social media movement cannot be denied. It has brought the story of these schoolgirls into everyday conversation and has helped mobilize international resources and support.

However, there is a limit in the ability of social media campaigns to inform and to effect change. The high volume and short word limits of social media posts do not convey the complex political context in Nigeria. Instead, social media can further promote sensational narratives that exclusively focus on the threat of violent extremist ‘Islamists’ and/or an underdeveloped Africa.

Such generalized conversations can then divorce the link between the Chibok kidnappings and the broader social and political context specific to Nigeria.

Indeed, the fact that Boko Haram was able to orchestrate the Chibok raid in a region under emergency law and counterinsurgency measures demonstrates how vital structural factors –such as government corruption, sectarian tensions, socioeconomic inequality and military incapacity- are to the making sense of the crisis.

Social media also provides a platform for critics to voice their opinions and to engage in debates with those promoting the movements. Michelle Obama’s tweet was met with criticisms of hypocrisy as users employed the hashtags#BringBackYourDrones  and #AllInnocentLivesAreEqual to counter that the Obama administration’s foreign policy decisions in the Middle East and South Asia has also jeopardized the lives of children.

The virality of hashtag #BringBackOurGirls also means that it has been hijacked to raise donations and promote external causes and parodied insensitively.

None of this is to say that the kidnappings do not warrant international attention. Indeed, social media was instrumental in challenging the initially lackluster responses. However, the virality of a social media campaign does not necessarily guarantee resolution of the issue it champions.

#KONY2012 is a powerful reminder of social media’s selective attention and of its ability to distort, exploit, sensationalize and #BringBackOurGirls has similarly experienced much of the positives and the negatives of a social media campaign.